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If you wish to see as much of Australia as possible, moving from place to place at the drop of a hat, then one thing you are definitely going to need is money and more the better. One of the best ways to fund trips and explore this continent is to try to plan your journey loosely around the harvest trail. Be in the right place at the right time and fruit picking jobs can easily pay for everything you need as well as go towards your “88 days”. While most city jobs require you to be staying in the city, while you send out your CV, wait for a reply and interview if your lucky, harvest jobs can be negotiated by talking to a farmer in a field at a moments notice.
Requirements of being a fruit ninja
Harvest work can be amazing for many reasons, you work out in the fresh air all day, work with like-minded people and the pay sometimes can be good. A lot of the work is paid on what is called “piece work”, so more you pick the more you earn. This is normally the fruit and vegetables that don’t need a lot of care when picking, so you need to be fit and healthy if you want to make any decent money.
Piece work is normally hard to make any money at first because your technique and speed won’t be so good but stick at it for a few weeks and you could make some serious money. I found that when on piece rate the days just disappeared, as if there was never enough time in the day. Compare that to when you on hourly rate, yes you don’t need to work as hard but when all you are doing all day is pulling peaches off branches, then you will then know the true meaning of clock watching. Also, if mister farmer man is paying by the hour do you really think he is going to watch you mope round with one hand in your pocket and the other scratching your nuts. There’s 50 other backpackers stood behind you, just waiting to creep into your shoes, so “chop, chop”.
What will I need to take into the fields?
Well I think we all have the impression of Australia being pretty warm to say the least, and yes you would be correct in thinking so. WATER! The life blood of any picker, so don’t be turning up with a half litre bottle of Diet Coke. At least 3 litres of water for a full day as temps can easily be 40C+ and there isn’t always somewhere to get more. Being out in the strong summer sun for up to 12 hours a day increases the chances of sun stroke so a hat and sun glasses are a must, as is sunscreen.
On the other hand further south you go generally it is cooler especially up in the hills. Olives are harvested in around winter times, the farm I worked on was close to freezing every morning so warm clothes are a must!
Some jobs may require you to have some of your own tools and equipment e.g secateurs if you will be vine pruning. Picking bag if you will be orange picking etc. Most of the time these will be supplied for you but every farm is different so be prepared to supply your own.
Some of my experiences: Piece work
Orange picking: The first job on a farm I had was picking oranges in a place called Waikerie SA. Orange picking is probably one of the harder fruit picking jobs around, as you will be required to wear a picking bag on your chest which when fully laden can weigh up to about 30kg. Wearing this bag clambering up and down a ladder can be quite a scary prospect, more than once while stretching for that last orange the ladder flipped over, flicking me off, falling through the tree landing on my back underneath of my bag of oranges…. Get up and crack on after all, time is money! Oh and the trees are packed with 2″ thorns which make an absolute mess of your arms. Tip: Get some football socks and cut the ends off, slide these up your arms, coupled with some gloves.
Orange picking is paid by the half tonne bin. Normally $25 a bin, the price can vary a bit depending on type of oranges I.e tangelo must be cut off the tree individually. You can expect up to $120 per bin for tangerines. First day picking the Navel variety I made $40 but after around two months I hit my record of $200 in 6 and a half hours. It all depends on how big the trees are, how big the fruit are and time that you can start. Oranges can only be picked when dry and over 13C otherwise you’ll leave finger prints on the fruit and we all know how fussy us consumers can be. At the beginning of the season this means some days never get warm enough to pick.
Lemons: These are pretty much the same as the oranges but $45 per bin.
Grapefruit: Same again $25 a bin but can be the size of basketballs….$75 per hour possible but normally a small quota.
Vine pruning: This time in the Hunter Valley. You may have this romanticized vision… Walking through the vineyard leisurely clipping twigs of and drinking last years crop! Think more of freezing mornings, wet from the morning dew, swap the clippers for bolt cutters and an old Italian dude screaming at you because you left an extra eye on one shoot out of thousands you have cut and you won’t be far off the mark.
For this we were paid 50c a vine and each vine needed probably 40 cuts. You know nothing about blisters until you’ve done a couple of weeks at this. I was making about $50 a day at the beginning and to be honest found another job after 2 weeks so never really earned more than about $75.
Don’t get me wrong though the Hunter Valley is a beautiful place, the town we used as our base was called “Broke” how apt. Worth a visit.
Hourly paid jobs:
Potato harvester: Company called Mitolo’s based in South Australia. One of the easier jobs I had, basically stood on the back of a harvester which is pulled by a tractor. In a nutshell, big conveyor belt, two people stood either side, throwing away everything that ain’t a healthy potato (twigs, stones, rotten potatoes, even bones). Up to 14 hour days on this at $20ph, you do the maths! Absolutely soul-destroying though, even plays tricks on your mind, after a while the potatoes look like millions of little bread rolls, or was I just really hungry. I never knew there was this many potatoes in the world!
Driving a tractor: This time in Echuca Victoria. Up to 12 hours days, 7 days a week, $21 per hour. THE EASIEST GIG I had out of all jobs I did. 800 acres and 12000000 tomato plants, just for one of the many farms we planted. This job consisted of blagging I’d driven a tractor back home on my uncles farm…. I hadn’t but I needed a job. Luckily for me I had a lovely Irish girl from the hostel called Steph to show me the dance on my first day. It involved filling up the 2000 liter water tank on the front while about 10 Indian migrant workers filled the shelves on the back with tomato seedlings. Once this was done drive into the furrows lower the planting gear and set the throttle to 1.6kph, keep the tractor straight for 20 minutes, sit back and relax while the lads on the back did all the graft. Tunes on, air con blasting! The Hardest part was staying awake. Get yourself to Echuca backpackers in September…You won’t regret it!
Some good, some bad but all a good laugh!
These are just a selection of the many jobs I had in less than 2 years, I wanted to give a taste of what the actual work is, some of them I will cover again in their own dedicated posts. So many memories, I’d be writing forever, so until then please share your fruit picking jobs. In many ways knowledge is wealth, so share the wealth.